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Rubio: We Should Not Be Playing Politics With A Public Health Crisis

Jun 3, 2016 | Press Releases

Rubio: [T]he purpose of this conference is to once again call attention to this issue and to pressure our officials. I know our entire delegation here in South Florida is very supportive. [We must] treat this for what it is. It is a potential public health crisis, right now it is a public health emergency, and we need to be quick with it. 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) today held a joint press conference in Miami, Florida to urge their colleagues in Congress to pass funding for the Zika virus when they return to session next week.

“I am here once again to urge my colleagues in Congress to take this issue seriously,” Rubio said. “As you all know, I supported the President’s request for $1.9 billion. The Senate passed an amount less than that, $1.1 billion. It is now in the House. The House is taking a different approach. It is now my understanding that there will be negotiations. It is my hope that through these negotiations, we will arrive at a number closer to the Senate number than the House number, at a number that will fully fund this for the entire fiscal year so that we have the ability to enter into long-term contracts for both prevention, awareness and treatment.

“[T]he purpose of this conference is to once again call attention to this issue and to pressure our officials,” Rubio added. “I know our entire delegation here in South Florida is very supportive. [We must] treat this for what it is. It is a potential public health crisis, right now it is a public health emergency, and we need to be quick with it.

“I also joined Governor Scott in his request to the President that we use any measures possible to move around existing funds to move on with this. Congress is going to pass something when it comes to funding Zika,” Rubio continued. “So it’s a safe bet to begin to spend money even if it’s emergency funds repurposed within existing funds. We’ve done this all the time, we can do it again, and then that money can be refunded once the congressional process is completed.”

Below is a partial transcript of the press conference:

Senator Marco Rubio: “To speak again about this issue with the Zika virus, I actually just returned from a two-and-a-half day trip to Honduras and the first baby born with microcephaly in the United States was to a former Honduran national who lives in the United States who had traveled to Honduras, contracted Zika while there, gave birth this weekend, I believe, in New Jersey, and now we have our first case of microcephaly in the United States directly from Zika.

“All of the health experts have told us, it is not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when.’ It’s just a matter of time, if it hasn’t already happened, before someone if infected by a mosquito in the continental United States with the Zika virus.

“When that moment comes there is going to be, for lack of a better term, a total freak out in the United States about what we are going to do.

“I think this is particularly dangerous for Florida. Imagine for a moment that someone travels to Florida, it is the only place they’ve traveled, and they go back home and are diagnosed with Zika. The only place they’ve been is to Disney World, or Universal Studios, and it is going to have a dramatic impact on our economy. It is going to have a dramatic impact on tourism and it is going to hurt people economically. We already know the human costs of Zika.

“So I am here once again to urge my colleagues in Congress to take this issue seriously. As you all know, I supported the President’s request for $1.9 billion. The Senate passed an amount less than that, $1.1 billion. It is now in the House. The House is taking a different approach. It is now my understanding that there will be negotiations. It is my hope that through these negotiations we will arrive at a number closer to the Senate number than the House number, at a number that will fully fund this for the entire fiscal year so that we have the ability to enter into long-term contracts for both prevention, awareness and treatment.

“It’s also particularly important to take into account the catastrophic situation on the island of Puerto Rico. These are American citizens who need to be treated with the same level of dignity and interest as anybody else. Just because there isn’t a senator from Puerto Rico, elected in Puerto Rico, does not mean that they do not deserve the same level of attention. They are American citizens and increasingly, by the way, there are large numbers moving to Florida as well given the economic situation.

“So the purpose of this conference is to once again call attention to this issue and to pressure our officials. I know our entire delegation here in South Florida is very supportive. [We must] treat this for what it is. It is a potential public health crisis, right now it is a public health emergency, and we need to be quick with it.

“I also joined Governor Scott in his request to the President that we use any measures possible to move around existing funds to move on with this. Congress is going to pass something when it comes to funding Zika. So it’s a safe bet to begin to spend money even if it’s emergency funds repurposed within existing funds. We’ve done this all the time, we can do it again, and then that money can be refunded once the congressional process is completed.

“But we should not be waiting and we should not be playing politics with this. It should not be about making a point. Both sides are playing politics with this. We should not be playing politics with a public health crisis.”

When Rubio was asked if he was disappointed that Congress was not able to finalize a resolution between the Senate and the House versions before recess, he responded:

“Let me first say, I’m not disappointed that Congress didn’t reach a resolution, I’m borderline extremely angry about it because this is not a political issue. And look, both sides have done this. My side has claimed that this is nothing but slush funds, some people have. The other side is trying to use this to kind of beat up on Republicans in an election cycle.

“I get politics, and I understand that in an election year a lot of issues will be in play. … I can tell you that when it comes to something like a public health crisis, I don’t get it because mosquitoes bite Republicans and I know they bite Democrats and Independents and Libertarians, vegetarians, Americans and everybody else.

“So I can just tell you that from my perspective, I don’t know why this has not been treated with the kind of emergency that is it. Part of it is just the lack of awareness. It’s the belief that somehow Zika [is] something that happens in these other countries but will never happen here because we’re so sanitary. It’s not a sanitation issue, it’s a mosquito issue and mosquitoes have killed more people than wars in the history of mankind. So that’s the level of urgency that I want it dealt with. We’re going to get there.

“Here are the facts: it’s quite possible that at this very moment there is someone living in the state of Florida or somewhere in the continental United States who has been infected by a mosquito with Zika, they just don’t know it. Because they showed up at an urgent care center with flu-like symptoms and they were treated for that.

“This may have already happened. Now I’m just telling you when it happens there’s going to be a huge panic, and people who were elected for the purpose of keeping our people safe and doing what’s necessary are going to have to answer for that.

“As far as the ongoing process that’s going on now at the staff level where a lot of this work happens during recess is, my sense is that we’ll find some resolution here within the next few weeks, unfortunately, the process moves very slowly. That’s why I hope the President can free up some existing funds for this purpose, and then those funds can be refunded once there’s a legislative resolution.”

When Rubio was asked about the next steps if Zika does not get the funding from Congress, he responded:

“It’s unimaginable that we wouldn’t. The next steps, quite frankly is, I think there will become some fault and members of Congress, in the middle of their campaign are going to have to stop what they’re doing, get on an airplane and fly back to Washington to vote for additional funding, and the public will be really upset that it took weeks and months to deal with this with the seriousness that it deserves.”